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:: Howard goes to heaven

Second (or maybe third?) trip through the wonderful Sweet Dreams by Michael Frayn. A strange, intriguing, delicate little book, with much more to it than meets the eye. Frayn himself described it as "an ironic examination of the illogicality of the idea of heaven." I'd describe it as a loving satire on the nature of mankind (i.e. "Humanity i love you because you are perpetually putting the secret of life in your pants and forgetting it's there and sitting down on it").

Boring average Howard runs a red light and suddenly finds himself driving down a broad highway leading to a huge glittering city where (it turns out) everything is so perfectly Howard-esque that it might have been designed just for him: his wife, his house, his children, his job, his attitudes, his friends, the mysterious dark-haired girl he keeps meeting for the first time. And although here one can do and be anything -- fly, or eat toasted X-rays for breakfast, or build a house out of purple, or become a wombat, or explore the stars -- what Howard chooses to do and be is an even more Howardy Howard than he was before (though with a great deal more pleasure and even joy, one suspects). He designs the Matterhorn but then gets worried that people will fall off it and hurt themselves; he drops out of "the system" when he concludes that they're designing Man all wrong and acting like they know better how the world should be run, but then thinks himself around to the idea that, well, perhaps they DO know better after all, and wouldn't the world be a nicer place if it was all safe and comfy? He's just as much a mediocrity as he was before, and yet in an endearing way (his friend who is designing Man uses Howard as a model because he's so perfectly average: everything and nothing at once). Howard's innocence somehow robs the story of cynicism while at the same time making you feel rather sorry for the poor putz who doesn't seem to realize just what he could do if he only would.

It's a bit like an antimatter version of Jonathan Livingston Seagull.

And of course it makes you wonder: If we were truly free to be whatever our minds could conceive of, how many of us would be capable of leaving behind all our entrenched notions of who and what we are and leaping into it wholeheartedly? How many of us would retreat fearfully into the comfort of convention, being who we've always been only because we know it better and it reassures us? Would Heaven be something new and eye-opening for me -- or would it just be a big library where I would become the perfected version of the book nerd I am today?

I like to think I'd be bold enough to try eating toasted X-rays for breakfast.



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